Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Review)

Labels: Great Works

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Edward Albee, 1961
272pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
December 2009

Rough stuff, maybe more than you've a mind for. But if you're up to it, Edward Albee's dramatic masterpiece can be bracing, to say the least, as well as powerful and illuminating. It's marriage at its absolute worst...yet, perhaps strangely, at its best. You be the judge.

George and Martha, a middle-aged college professor and his wife go at each other tooth-and-claw. They're at home, having returned from a party earlier in the evening. It's already 2:00 a.m. when Nick and Honey arrive; a young couple new to the campus, they've stopped on their way home at Martha's invitation.

The games begin immediately, viciously, hilariously. They're word games and sexual gambits—at heart, warfare, which pierces, even strips away, protective armor and aims for the gut. The goal is to reveal and humiliate. At first, only George and Martha play, but in this drama, there are no by-standers; Nick and Honey get pulled into the fray.

Yet beneath the madness and spite, Who's Afraid is a love story, of two wounded individuals coping with failure and sorrow. In the end, Martha—the same man-devouring Martha who earlier lured Nick to her bedroom—admits, "There is only one man who has ever made me happy. Do you know that? One!" It's George, of course, and the couple share a desperate secret, a sorrow that has bound them to one another for 20 years.

Plays are written to be performed, so do watch the superb 1966 film version with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor—who portray George and Martha in all their magnificent, flawed humanness. Also, Kathleen Turner stared to great acclaim in a 2005 stage revival, though I've yet to find it on film. Too bad.

 

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